Expeditionary warfare is the essence of naval operations from the sea — anytime, anywhere in any manner — according to U.S. Navy Expeditionary warfare forces. It provides the nation a range of capabilities across the full spectrum of military operations including forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
To sustain those capabilities in a dynamic environment, four major amphibious operations are conducted annually — the most recent was Bold Alligator 2014, executed off the East Coast of the United States from Oct. 29 to Nov. 10.
Rear Adm. Cindy Thebaud, Commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2, discussed the exercise recently at the 19th Expeditionary Warfare Conference held recently in Norfolk, Virginia.
Bold Alligator 2014 was designed to strengthen the Navy-Marine Corps team’s core amphibious abilities and revitalize the blue-green team as “fighters from the sea,” said Thebaud, who led Bold Alligator’s multinational, maritime force, including 11,000 personnel and 13 ships from four countries.
This year’s Bold Alligator incorporated three new perspectives to align today’s training with today’s requirements — a focus on crisis response, a focus on de-escalatory actions and the Fly-In Command Element concept.
Unlike previous iterations of the Bold Alligator series, BA14 exercised unscripted planning and tactics to hone flexibility and agility in responding to threats which demand an accelerated response. To mirror a crisis response atmosphere, BA14 was set in an uncertain environment and employed short-notice, geographically dispersed tasking missions to allow rapid planning and execution.
“Well-planned, timely action is vital to successful crisis response operations,” said Thebaud. “World events continually underscore this skill as a requirement, so we took that lesson learned and leveraged it during training.” Exercise leaders responded with available forces to conduct amphibious landings, humanitarian assistance, long-range reinforcement of a U.S. Embassy, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, and amphibious raids.
In total, the combatant commanders led response to 17 missions in 10 days by scaling forces to meet mission objectives. The key to flexibility centered on the distribution of forces across three Amphibious Ready Groups. Two ARGs were commanded by U.S. Navy amphibious squadron commodores, Capt. James Cody, Commander, Amphibious Squadron 4, and Capt. Timothy Schorr, Commander, Amphibious Squadron 8. The Coalition Task Force was commanded by Dutch rear admiral, Commodore Rob Kramer.
Each ARG was manned and equipped to perform a range of functions; and with the mission intent of the commander’s clearly communicated, multiple missions could be conducted simultaneously, in geographically dispersed areas using an appropriate force size and capability range.
Another fresh perspective offered by Bold Alligator ’14 was the guidance of Thebaud and 2d Marine Expeditionary Commander, Maj.Gen. Richard Simcock, to emphasize peaceable response options in the sometimes hostile environment. “Although we planned for various courses of action for each mission, our primary goal was to remain in Phase 0 — to enact choices that were non-lethal and empowered legitimate regional governments to restore stability to the region. That is the way we operate — with the goal of enhancing global relations and well-being, so that is how we trained.”
The final new feature of BA14 was employment of the Fly-In Command Element (FICE). Comprised of the ESG 2 and 2d MEB commanders and a cadre of 22 officers, the FICE served as a means to more quickly provide on-scene flag and general officer command and control, Thebaud explained.
At the onset of the exercise, USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) was pierside in accordance with the ship's routine deployment cycle. Upon receiving orders to respond to exercise crises, the ship began loading mission essential personnel, equipment, and ship-to-shore connectors. Simultaneously, the integrated Navy-Marine Corps FICE flew to Iwo Jima, which was already operating in the exercise area. There the commanders were able to immediately establish command and control of both the maritime and landing forces — four days ahead of embarking Kearsarge.
The concept allowed staffs to operate on a 24-hour cycle to conduct rapid planning for short notice crisis response.
“Did the FICE concept work? Yes. The takeaway is the FICE gave us the opportunity to get early eyes on and understand commanding forces in a seamless environment,” Thebaud said. “But the future for FICE is understanding that it is not a one size fits all.”
In addition to BA14 pioneering some “firsts,” it also retained a critical fixture — Coalition integration. “Every major, global response in today’s environment is by a Coalition force. I don’t see that changing; nor should it,” said Thebaud. “It is important that we train together; to learn each other’s processes, procedures and capabilities; so we are better able to quickly respond to real-world events.”
Coalition participation increased from Bold Alligator 2012 — the last live event — from nine nations to 19; each providing forces, augments or observers. Overall, the exercise included 19 nations, 19 ships and submarines, and 18,000 Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and Coastguardsmen.
“Coalition and U.S. forces leveraged each other’s strengths and compensated for each other’s weaknesses,” Thebaud said. “Success was achieved because we met the intent of the exercise as a team to provide quick, effective planning; integration of the force; cross training within and across staffs; validating new doctrine; and building a force structure which enabled flexibility.”
With the lessons learned of BA14 still being tabulated, Thebaud looks toward the future. She noted the increasing demand for amphibious capabilities obliges sustainment of the type of training and skills reinforced through the Bold Alligator series and other live expeditionary exercises. “We have to do more of this if we’re going to continue to do it well and do it right.”
Interested in knowing more about Expeditionary Strike Group TWO? Follow ESG 2 on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ESGTWO or visit www.esg2.navy.mil or visit our website at www.esg2.navy.mil.
For more information about Bold Alligator 2014, please visit http://www.public.navy.mil/usff/ba/Pages/default.aspx.